It’s assbutt cold in gloomy Massachusetts right now. I can’t feel my bony little digits on the regular, even after receiving a lovely pair of new gloves as a gift. It’s just worse than winter glove designers could have reasonably planned for. It’s nobody’s fault! So, I’ve been sitting here in the darkness that subsumes all until the planet gradually starts to tilt back towards life, hope, and freedom after the solstice, and there ain’t much left to do but itemize bittersweet memories and bust out the slow cooker. That’s right! It’s soup season!
Thinking about soup, first of all, makes me think about that scene from Best in Show and also, in a more tangential way, that deleted shot from Harry Potter of Emma Thompson trying to eat everything as though it were soup.
I noticed Daniel Ortberg was also thinking about soup (and shared a very delicious-sounding recipe in the same thread), so we chatted about it. It was all very straightforward in such a comforting way, like soup itself.
JARBOE: Hey hey! How are you tonight?
ORTBERG: Hey hey! I’m doing okay!! lately I have been experience Mysterious Uterine Cramps and I hate it!!!!
JARBOE: Oh! I have those! It’s uterine atrophy!!!!
ORTBERG: I’ve only been on T for a year, what the hell!!!
JARBOE: One time it was so bad I thought I had to go to the hospital! It happens between 9 months and 3 years on average, I think? [Reader disclaimer: I am not a doctor! Talk to a doctor, but also, converse reader disclaimer: doctors often don’t actually know that much about trans people’s bodies, either, so your mileage may vary no matter what road you go down.] And NOBODY TOLD ME ABOUT IT, they were just like “uhhh stuff might atrophy” as if a gently wilting flower, not like “it will feel like you’re giving birth to knives.” But if it feels like you’re giving birth to knives, take heart! It happens for a while and then it tends to go away.
ORTBERG: Oh my god. This is both helpful and stressful!!! I just really wanted it to not be real. It’s like, just a whole big mess, the inside of me.
JARBOE: I basically wanted to talk to you about soup because everyone knows that soup is shorthand for: cozy, recovery, wholesome, loving your insides by the spoonful.
ORTBERG: YES. That is a very true definition of soup.
JARBOE: Tell me about where this mushroom soup recipe you posted to Twitter the other day emerged from!
ORTBERG: Okay, SO, it was vaguely inspired by Samin Nosrat, who more than anyone else has pushed me over to tasting at every stage as I cook and layering different kinds of salt. I know that’s a very basic part of cooking and I’ve been cooking for myself for years, I wasn’t a total novice, but it was a real shift for me!
JARBOE: That show is SO chill.
ORTBERG: EXTREMELY. Anyhow, I’d long had a sort of generic mushroom soup recipe and the salt episode made me think, like, okay, how many weird little salt vehicles could I add to this?
JARBOE: Where’d you get the mushrooms? Did you have a farmer’s market montage of senses like Amelie or was it just, like, a supermarket grab bag you were determined to work with.
ORTBERG: I was at Berkeley Bowl! I recently moved to Berkeley and I’m close to BBWest now, which is just amazing, and so I got a mix of cremini and chanterelles. I like lots of different kinds of mushrooms but honestly, basic little brown guys are super, super good. You do not have to get too fancy, IMHO.
JARBOE: Have you had any soup experiments go very, very wrong or tried any out there in the world that surprised you in a good way?
ORTBERG: I saw a tweet last week that I can’t find again but that’s basically like: Making Soup, day of: I am a wholesome and nutrient-filled humble householder, what a warm and comforting bowl of deliciousness. Pouring leftover soup out, Day Four: fuck you, beany mess. I haven’t had too many soup disasters but I ALWAYS assume I’ll be thrilled to eat leftovers all week when in reality it’s like, the first three days I love it and then I never want to see that soup again. I need to just make 4-serving soups, is what I need.
JARBOE: TRUE. Even with really gourmet soup that I know was expensive just to make! I want it 3 meals a day and then mid week I’m like “I’ll kill the next person I see for anything else.”
ORTBERG: YES. I keep turning on my own soups!!!
JARBOE: Have you considered freezing like 1/2 to 3/4th of the batch immediately following making it, so you have it for 1-2 days and then save the rest to space out? I should do this and I don’t because I’m the kind of lazy where defrosting is harder than cooking. I cannot explain that.
ORTBERG: Yes! It IS! In my experience, when I freeze stuff, I almost never defrost and use it. I just cook in smaller batches now. I’m not really a meal prep kind of guy. I’ll make stuff that’ll last me for a day or two, but my freezer is basically just a procrastination drawer, and I don’t want that for my life.
JARBOE: What’s wild about Meal Prep Truthers or whatever they are, is they seem to think they invented something novel when I think most people absolutely do think of it and hate it.
ORTBERG: I don’t know anyone who actually does that. I only see those people on YouTube.
JARBOE: They’re trying to sell us all on expensive blenders and supplements at best, I am convinced. I think that’s why the Salt Fat Acid Heat episodes are so comforting, because she DOES just bite ingredients and change her mind.
ORTBERG: Yes! I mean, I’m not against prepping at all, I just want to be able to make feeding-myself decisions that aren’t purely “I know what I will want six days from now.”
JARBOE: I don’t have anything against planning, but I fell down a terrible internet hole about a year ago of special diet/meal prep Reddits.
ORTBERG: Oh gosh, those Reddits are WILD. Everyone wants to Solve the Problem of Needing Food.
JARBOE: I want to preserve my innocent, hedonistic whimsy of appetite. So! Here are some “reader submitted questions” about soup: 1. Position on beans in soup? 2. Sweet potatoes? 3. Crackers? 4. Dipping grilled cheeses into tomato soup? 5. And finally, when, in your opinion, does a drink become a soup, and when does a soup become a sort of wet salad rice bowl?
ORTBERG: 1. I love beans in soup! Especially llano seco beans, the Greatest Beans. I mean, my FAVORITE beans are refried beans but second favorite are definitely In Soup. They’re great because you can have, like, bread PLUS beans in your soup. 2. Sweet potatoes kind of fall apart, so only in soup if it’s pureed. 3. Yes to crackers, absolutely yes to crackers. 4. I don’t eat cheese! I do like some vegan cheese but mostly the soft/homemade ones like Miyoko’s or Kite Hill and those are not really grilled cheese cheeses. 5. And I was just wondering that last one to myself! I made a little miso soup and I was drinking it out of a bowl and I was like “this is just tea.” Soup has to have some heft to it, I think, but i really don’t know at what point it becomes a wet salad.
JARBOE: Any last comments about the good self care in life that is soup making and eating?
ORTBERG: If you can eat your soup with a wooden spoon, it makes you feel like a clean-scrubbed French peasant girl who loves her mother and is friends with the local librarian and who tills her own garden and is taking up ice skating.
JARBOE: YES. God, thank you for finally putting words to this. ?
Cover illustration by Flynn Nicholls.